Located at the threshold of modern Parisian apartment living, the concierge maintains the common spaces, delivers mail and, until 1957, "pulled the cord" to permit dwellers to enter the building at all hours of the night. Neither owner of nor renter in the building that she tends, the concierge occupies the first-floor loge – a liminal space that is neither entirely public nor truly private – where she simultaneously lives and works. In the nineteenth century, the concierge was often poor and uneducated, yet influential thanks in great part to her post at the front door: "She was feared because of her intermediate position, straddling public and private, between tenants and landlords and at times in cahoots with the police, who turned to her whenever there was an incident and who sought to recruit her as a spy" (Arlès et Duby 230).1 Her identity was so inextricably linked to her physical location at the entry to the building that she was often referred to as a portière. However, the concierge's role of gatekeeper also earned her the far less flattering moniker of "Cerberus" – the mythological three-headed guard dog at the gates of hell. For instance, in his 1871 memoire, At Home in Paris: at Peace and at War, Jerrold Blanchard writes, "Concierges' boxes are usually gloomy; but that in which our Cerberus lived was in perpetual twilight" (13),2 and even more recently, in José Benjamin's La concierge est dans le cercueil (2008), the eponymous character's loge is referred to as "l'antre du cerbère" (40).
This document was originally published in Romance Notes by University of North Carolina, Department of Romance Studies. Copyright restrictions may apply. doi: 10.1353/rmc.2017.0042
Devereux Herbeck, Mariah. (2017). "Cerberus at the Gates: The Demonization of the French Female Concierge". Romance Notes, 57(3), 487-495. http://dx.doi.org/10.1353/rmc.2017.0042